W.C. Fields

By: Franklin Bruno
January 29, 2010

Given his much-imper­son­ated rasp and gift for Menckenesque quips (“Horse sense is the thing a horse has that keeps it from betting on people”), it’s surprising to find W. C. FIELDS (1879-1946) telling Photoplay, as of 1925, “I prefer pantomime over dialogue. The laughs can come quicker.” While the former Claude Dukenfield might still be remembered for his silent-era work, he braved the transition to sound more successfully than any contemporary save Chaplin. He did something resembling acting in other people’s films (notably, David Copperfield), but his legacy rests on such self-directed vehicles as It’s a Gift and The Bank Dick which were largely improvised, at least when it came to Fields’ own dialogue. These later films’ physical comedy, though, was as precise as ever: his byplay with a business card tips Fields’ beginnings as a Zigfield Follies juggler, while his battle with intransigent golfing equipment in 1941’s You’re Telling Me hones and extends a stage routine he first filmed in ’30. Whatever the relationship between his off-screen self and the hapless-spouse-turned-hopeless-souse he played, some of the skeptical misanthropy his performances project seems to have been real: when deathbed visitors found him reading the Bible, he explained: “I’m looking for loopholes.”

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  1. Visit our Official W.C. Fields Web site http://www.wcfields.com, owned and operated by the W.C. Fields Family. You will see a special tribute in honor of the 130th anniversary of our grandfather’s Birth, January 29, along with rarely seen family photos. Our W.C. Fields Collection, which chronicles the world’s modern entertainment heritage will be coming to the New York Public Library Theatre Collection at Lincoln Center in the Spring/Summer season. Stay tuned to http://www.wcfields.com for the exact dates.

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